Theresa May received overwhelming backing from MPs for a snap UK election that the prime minister said would give her more room for manoeuvre in Brexit negotiations if her Conservative party wins the poll.
The prime minister won a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday by 522 to 13, allowing her to press ahead with an early general election on June 8.
The motion overrode the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which had set May 7 2020 as the date of the next election. Only last month Mrs May had ruled out going to the country early, saying it would be “self-serving” and would create uncertainty.
But she said on Wednesday morning that she had changed her mind and called an early poll on Tuesday after looking at the Brexit timetable and the risk that final negotiations would become dangerously entangled with a proposed election in May 2020.
“I believe this will strengthen our hand,” Mrs May told the BBC’s Today programme, arguing that by postponing a second election until 2022 she would have a strong mandate throughout the Brexit process.
An election victory would give her more leeway to accept a transition period — possibly involving the acceptance of free movement and EU laws — between the formal Brexit date of 2019 and the conclusion of a free-trade deal.
“Every vote for the conservatives will make me stronger for when I negotiate for Britain with the European Union,” Mrs May told parliament ahead of the vote on the snap poll.
The prime minister faced criticism from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders in a tetchy parliamentary exchange over her decision to refuse a head-to-head live television debate with her opponents ahead of the June poll. ITV said it planned to hold a debate in early May.
Mr Corbyn told the House of Commons: “She says it’s about leadership yet is refusing to defend her record in television debates and it’s not hard to see why.”
The Labour leader chose to focus his questions on domestic policy, not Europe, highlighting the deficit and debt, and attacking on schools and health policies. He asked: “Why are there tax giveaways to the richest corporations while our schools are starved of funding to take them into the future?”
Mrs May responded by pointing out that the Labour party had pledged to borrow an extra £500bn, which would lead to a doubling of income tax, council tax and VAT. “That’s Labour’s plan for the economy,” she said.
Sterling traded at $1.2849 on Wednesday, up 0.1 per cent on the session but off the six-month high of $1.2904 it touched on Tuesday, when it rallied as much as 2.7 per cent after Mrs May said she would call the snap election.
Britain’s benchmark stock index dipped into negative territory for the year on Wednesday, amid investor concern that a stronger pound would sap the foreign-based revenues for many of the FTSE 100 multinational companies.
In the wake of suffering its worst daily drop on Tuesday since the Brexit vote — down 2.5 per cent — the blue-chip gauge slipped as much as 0.3 per cent, before paring losses as the pound’s early strength ebbed.
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According to the FT poll tracker, the Conservatives have an 18-point lead over Labour, with bookmakers offering odds as low as 1/10 on a Tory victory. Electoral Calculus predicts a Tory majority of 130, compared with the current majority of 17.
But Mrs May admitted on Wednesday morning: “Every election is a risk.”
The prime minister’s stance on TV debates marks a departure from her predecessor. In 2010, David Cameron participated in three debates with then-Labour and Lib Dem leaders Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg.
Angus Robertson received verbal assurances from Mr Corbyn and Lib Dem leader Tim Farron in the Commons that they would take part in the ITV debate. The SNP’s leader at Westminster said Mrs May’s refusal to take part “in the 21st century, in the multimedia age” was “unsustainable”.